New York City, NY

10 Best Things To Do In New York City For First Time Visitors


New York City is a vibrant and beautiful city with so much to see. There are world-famous sites around every corner, and the bustling streets feel like we could spend months exploring NYC and hardly scratch the surface.

If it’s your first time in NYC, we have compiled a list of the top sites you must see on your first visit to the Big Apple. Whether you’re traveling on a budget or with a luxurious taste, you’ll be able to experience the top must-see sites in NYC. Here’s the ultimate list of top places and things to do in New York City for first-time visitors:

1. Statue of Liberty

Lady Liberty has been a symbol of democracy and hope for New York City, and the United States in general, since 1886. This 93-meter statue originally came to the United States as a gift from France on the 100th anniversary of signing the Declaration of Independence, and was well-known as the beacon of hope for refugees and immigrants who would make the long journey by sea to come to America through Ellis Island.

Visiting the Statue of Liberty is extremely popular with first-time travelers coming to NYC. You can plan a picnic lunch on Liberty Island, as there’s plenty of space to sit and enjoy. The queues on ticket counters for Liberty Island are the longest during the summer. So, you can buy your ticket in advance, and head right to the security to avoid unnecessary waiting for the ferry.

2. American Museum of Natural History

Situated on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the American Museum of Natural History was founded in 1869 with a mission to discover, interpret, and spread information about the natural world, human cultures, and the universe through a wide-ranging program of scientific research, education, and exhibition.

The museum contains more than 34 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and much more. This museum is a top tourist destination and you can spend your entire day exploring things at the museum.

3. City Skyline Views

So many buildings and rooftops offer an amazing view of the New York City skyline, but the most popular viewpoints are the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building. Thankfully, both are part of NYC City Pass!

However, if you only have time to visit one viewpoint, then Top of the Rock is recommended. From here, you will be able to see the Empire State Building in the skyline, which is the iconic view of New York.

Be sure to arrive at both places as soon as they open to avoid the big crowds and long lines.

4. Governors Island

Governors Island is a beautiful 172-acre island that contains a park, a playground, and an outdoor art space into a single lovely place of adventure. Summertime is one of the best times to ride the ferry and enjoy the exciting festivals and events that take place between April and October.

Visitors can do hiking, running, biking, picnicking, and birding throughout the sprawling green area around the island. It’s one of the most beautiful and unique places to visit around New York City.

5. Wall Street

Wall Street is the financial heart of the city, and it’s exactly as you’d picture it from the movies: buzzing with men and women in black and grey business suits, power walking down the street with briefcases in hand.

While you’re at Wall Street, it’s not hard to notice the Bronze Bull and the Fearless Girl, two icons of the financial center of the world.

The area also features many examples of grand architecture, including the New York Stock Exchange and the 18th Century Federal Hall where the first US Congress convened and Washing was sworn in as president.

For history and architecture enthusiasts, Wall Street is a must-visit!

6. Times Square

Times Square is one of the top tourist sites of NYC, but most New Yorkers Stay away from this crowded place. This place is a major commercial and entertainment hub as well as the world’s busiest pedestrian area. It’s chaotic and filled with major chain restaurants and retail stores, so you won’t get the same charming feel of the small NYC neighborhoods; but nevertheless, it’s definitely a must-visit stop when you visit the city for the first time.

The popular attractions of the place are; Madame Tussauds, Gulliver’s Gate, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and Ocean Odyssey, etc. along with numerous dining and shopping options.

7. Brooklyn

New York has so much to see, but you would be missing out if you didn’t make time to hop across the water to Brooklyn. This city is a place of culture, delicious street food and internation cuisine, street art, thrift stores, and hip young locals. Places like Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens are always surrounded by young residents. You will also want to make a stop at DUMBO (which stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”), with amazing views of Manhattan, hip shopping and dining options, public gardens, and the iconic “DUMBO” sign for a photo-op.

Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in the world and is a top thing to do on the list of first-time visitors. It takes 20 minutes to walk fully across the bridge while taking pictures.

The streets of Brooklyn are tree-lined with attractive brownstones on either side, and are a lot quieter and calmer than in Manhattan. You can also wander around the street blocks for some of the best graffiti you can find anywhere!

8. The Central Park

Central Park is a massive urban park covering 843 acres of land, smack in the center of Manhattan. And, honestly, it looks as beautiful as in the movies. The park is home to scenic hills, meadows, playgrounds, ball fields, small lakes and ponds, and lots of diverse flora and fauna. You’ll also find many well-known attractions including the Central Park Zoo, Strawberry Fields, Belvedere Castle, and the Central Park ice rink in winter months.

New York’s Central Park is one of the most visited tourist attractions worldwide, and it really does live up to the hype. Plan a picnic, stroll around to explore the different areas, or rent a rowboat for an hour to enjoy the oasis-in-a-city that is Central Park.

9. Do A Food Tour

NYC is a hub for all kinds of food and you won’t be disappointed if you’re a foodie. There are numerous food tours to choose from in New York, but the Original Greenwich Village, Chelsea Market, Flavors of Chinatown, and Highline are quite famous.

It’s a great way to explore not only the diversity of culinary offerings in the city, but also to find some off-the-beaten-path hidden gems, get a feel for the layout of the neighborhoods, learn really interesting history about the area, and connect with other foodie travelers.

Be sure to check the schedule, as some tours don’t run every day.

10. Comedy Shows

There are so many comedy clubs that grace Manhattan’s streets, and the city has a well-known history of being the career birthplace for many of the famous comedians we know today. One of the most famous is Comedy Cellar, where famous comedians such as Aziz Ansari, Jon Stewart, Robin Williams, and Sarah Silverman all performed. There’s also a no-phone policy at all shows.

Other popular comedy clubs in NYC are Gotham Comedy Club, Secret Loft, Union Hall, and others. There’s even a good chance you’ll walk in on any normal evening to find a famous comedian practicing new bits to an unexpecting crowd.

Pack Your Bags for the Ultimate Bucket List City!

We hope this first-time visitors’ guide to NYC offers a good mix of attractions and experiences. Of course, you will never run out of things to do in New York City, but to if you're feeling overwhelmed at planning your first visit, this list is a good place to start. You'll find yourself on lots of detours along the way — getting lost in the streets, wandering into cute cafes, stopping to watch a street performance, discovering charming little gardens, standing in line for some mouthwatering street food, or any of the other surprises that make New York City so spectacular.

Have any must-see stops in New York City to add to the list? Let us know in the comments!

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American travel photographer and writer, based on the beautiful island of Bali. Two years ago, I left my job as a Washington DC lawyer, sold everything I owned, and booked a one-way ticket to Indonesia to turn my creative dreams into reality. I have traveled to 60 countries, have worked with major airlines, luxury hotels, tourism boards, and fashion/adventure goods companies. When I’m not working or traveling, I spend my free time writing, doing yoga, learning to surf, or swimming at my favorite beaches in Uluwatu in south Bali.


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